What Future for Books?

A look back at StreetLib’s +15 Tribe meeting

If you read my last couple of newsletters (didn’t you? Sign up then!) you are aware we had a team meeting last week. All the StreetLib tribe getting together is a rare thing for us as we are scattered across Italy and further, for some. Each time one of these meetings happen, whether we are talking company results, ongoing project or general digital publishing initiatives, I truly realize how we all work for books and need to love them to be doing this job. It’s poetic.

We do all look like book loving poets, don’t you think? Especially you Ciccio Rigoli ;)

There is also something fantastic about working in a company where the link between every employee is a common love for something. And, to top all this, this “something” is books. How extraordinary!

Of course, a question we thus all need to answer both as a company and for each and everyone of us is: What will become of books?

As luck would have it, last week’s meeting was all about the future. We spent a full day, first separated in small groups and then gathering all our thoughts, taking a look at what would be the Book in 15 years and beyond. With all the rest of the world evolving at a fast pace, how will it influence the Book: the market, the conception, the object, the format, the consommation?

For each element, we drew conclusions but only once we stated one really important fact: people have stories to tell. It always has been and will always be. Some people will always want to write these stories and, consequently, some others will always want to read them.

Conclusion: books will always exist.

Actually, I should mention that this conclusion only was validated by everyone once we agreed on a prerequisite: What is a book?
I know. How can a company working with books for ten years still be asking this question? Well, it’s simple really. If the book didn’t change its own form, possibilities, perceptions, every other day, maybe we’d know better what it is :) So, let’s work this out together, shall we?

First step to know what is a book: ask Google

Below is the detail of definition 1, relevant to our current discussion:

I used an incognito window and the address encrypted.google.com so that the answer would not be depending on my personnal profile and, as you can see, even the Internet doesn’t seem to be very clear on the matter. Let’s take out the non relevant definitions and see about these two:

  1. “A written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers.”
  2. “A literary composition that is published or intended for publication as a book.”

The first definition is focused on the object, the second on the content. The object itself is subjected to evolutions due to innovations in technologies — as we have already witnessed for a good ten years now — and it never seems to change the cultural perception that the text published one is reading, whatever what we are reading it on, is a book. We are thus more interested in the content: the core of the book.

Second step to know what is a book: Ask people

This goes to the second definition given by Google, focused on intention.

“a literary composition that is published or intended for publication as a book”

According to this definition, much like art, it is the purpose given by the creator that gives it its nature. If a written work is intended as a book, it’s a book. I believe my colleague’s question was “so, if I take my notebook, full of this meeting’s scribbles, and decide to publish it as a book, it makes it a book?” Yes! We all shouted. Okay, if we had taken the notes as they were, with no editing whatsoever, maybe the book wouldn’t have sold any copies (no offence Ciccio Rigoli. Yes, you again.) but it’d still be a book. We can’t seriously question the nature of an object based on its poor quality: that would put a great number of published books in great danger of being disqualified!

The definition also states however that it has to be ‘a literary composition’. Otherwise, I could take any object or concept and say “this is a book” to make it a book.

This is not a pipe, it’s a book. (Thanks Magritte)

There will be books forever

After following the very scholar steps of defining the terms of a problematic to help answer it and taking into account the definition we agreed on (i.e. “literary composition intended as a book”), we saw no reason for the book to ever disappear.
Unless the human race was to disappear as well. Which is a totally different matter. So, yes, the book is in danger but no, it won’t die.

Learn more about StreetLib’s mission reading our manifesto here.

So, What future for books?

Our meeting didn’t give us one clear answer of how books will evolve, it gave us plenty!

  • The market evolution, focusing on Writers in a peer-to-peer perspective, considering the move towards free access to all content and seeing the global impact Artificial Intelligence could have on our monetary system.
  • The writing process evolution, taking new technologies into account for environment, method and timeframes and seeing the global impact Artificial Intelligence could have on our composition methods.
  • The reading habits evolution, considering the changes in our daily lives and habits as well as taking new technologies into account for environment, method, accessibility and timeframes and seeing the global impact Artificial Intelligence could have on our daily lives.
  • The book object and format evolution, considering the new needs and possibilities generated by the changes in our lives and the new technologies as well as the global impact Artificial Intelligence could… well, maybe not here actually :) it was more about augmented reality, new printing and e-reading technologies and, yes, a bit of AI.

You got it right, Artificial Intelligence was at the center of our reflexion, but really, is there any reflexion about the future where Artificial Intelligence isn’t involved?

As books depend — as well as the rest of human civilization as we know it — on this huge blurry future change, we can’t really say for sure what the book will be. However, the knowledge that books will never disappear is, as far as I’m concerned, the main — if not only — information to care about. And as far as StreetLib is concerned, we’ll do our very best to adapt and be part of whatever will come next for books.

What Future for books? Who knows? but there will be one and we will be there!

What’s your take? What do you think books will be in Fifteen year and onwards? Your answer in comments will be greatly appreciated!